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For many clients injured in a car accident, the first question asked of the attorney after “is there cream for the coffee,” is “how much is my case worth?” That question is always a fair one, but not always easily answered at the beginning of a case. In any personal injury case, value depends on both tangible and intangible elements, many of which, especially the intangible, will not be known until the case is well underway.

Tangible factors include strength of the evidence that the other party was at fault, severity of the injuries, disfigurement, actual economic loss, such as lost wages and medical expenses, permanency of the injuries, and future economic loss, such as impairment of future earning capacity and future medical or life care needs. Intangible factors, which weigh heavily in the analysis of case value by experienced counsel, include likeability and credibility of witnesses, outrageous conduct by the defendant driver, interference with family or married life, the effort by the plaintiff to overcome the effect of severe injuries. Most experienced personal injury lawyers agree that juries give the biggest verdicts to seriously injured plaintiffs who try to keep a positive attitude and retain as much ability as possible, but who nevertheless suffer depression and limitations because of their injuries.

Most car crash cases will involve settlement efforts before the case goes to trial. Once the investigations, written questions, and depositions are done, your lawyer needs to advise you what the settlement value of the case is versus a likely jury verdict range (a very inexact science) and the chances of winning and losing. The final element in valuing a case, for settlement at least, is determining the collectibility of a judgment. Most lawyers do not relish chasing a defendant’s personal assets if they have inadequate insurance to compensate for serious injuries. Occasionally, a defendant with insufficient insurance does have enough personal wealth to allow for a substantial and collectible settlement. In one such recent case in Massachusetts, the driver of a red light who ran over a pedestrian causing severe injuries, contributed $825,000 in personal assets toward a $1.24 million dollar settlement. Such an outcome is the exception. Generally, there must be enough insurance coverage in a case to enable the plaintiff with serious injuries to obtain a fair ultimate result.

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